Women leave academia more than men, but greater need to change in computing

May 30, 2012 at 9:48 am 6 comments

I did my monthly post at Blog@CACM on the some of the recent data on how few women there were in computing.  I suggested that things haven’t got better in the last 10 years because we really haven’t decided that there’s a problem with under-representation.  The comments to that post suggest that I’m right.  Blog@CACM posts don’t often get comments.  Three in a week is a lot, and two of those expressed the same theme, “Women are choosing not to go into IT.  Why is that a problem?”  It’s a problem because there are too few people in IT, and there are many women who could do the work that we should be trying to recruit, motivate, and engage, even if it requires us to change our own cultures and careers.  Computing has a bright future, and I predict that most applications of computing in our lives are still to be invented.  We need a diverse range of people to meet that future, and change in our culture and careers would be healthy.

The situation is different with respect to academia.  The article linked below points out that women are turned off to careers in academia are greater rates than men.  Other recent work suggests that students in doctorate programs lose interest in academia the longer that they are in it.  There should be more women in academia, and academia cultures and careers should change to be more attractive to a broader range of qualified applicants.  But what could make that happen?

In contrast to the computing industry, academia isn’t growing. The economics in academia are changing, and there will be fewer academic jobs (especially in CS).  I still believe that we ought to ramp up CS faculty hiring, in order to offer computing to more people (even everyone) on campus, but the economics and organizational trends are against me.  If we were to hire in academia, we should make an effort to draw in more women and more under-represented minorities.  We absolutely should strive to improve the culture and career prospects in academia to retain the (relatively little) diversity that we now have in academia.  But neither hiring nor retention are at the top of academia’s concerns right now.  Maybe the young scientists are wise to seek other opportunities, and PhD students are figuring out that academia may not hold great career prospects?

Young women scientists leave academia in far greater numbers than men for three reasons. During their time as PhD candidates, large numbers of women conclude that (i) the characteristics of academic careers are unappealing, (ii) the impediments they will encounter are disproportionate, and (iii) the sacrifices they will have to make are great.

Men and women show radically different developments regarding their intended future careers. At the beginning of their studies, 72% of women express an intention to pursue careers as researchers, either in industry or academia. Among men, 61% express the same intention.

By the third year, the proportion of men planning careers in research had dropped from 61% to 59%. But for the women, the number had plummeted from 72% in the first year to 37% as they finish their studies.

via Why women leave academia and why universities should be worried | Higher Education Network | Guardian Professional.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , , .

Visual ability predicts a computer science career: Why? And can we use that to improve learning? CalArts Awarded National Science Foundation Grant to Teach Computer Science through the Arts | CalArts

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Laura Blankenship  |  May 30, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    I shouldn’t have read those comments on your other post . . . ugh. Here are just some brief reasons why I didn’t do computing earlier. I was the only girl in not one, but two, computing classes. As a teenager, and then as a young adult, it was hard to put up with the weird looks, the taunting, etc. I seriously got some “Why would you want to do this. You’re a girl.” comments. Even if I loved something that much, why would I want to put up with that forever. It’s also just hard being the only one. You’re representing, and then when you’re with your friends, you can’t share your interests with them. It’s a challenge.

    There was also no clear career path. No one really talked about how one goes from an interest in computing to a variety of careers. I changed my major 8 times. Every time, I had a job idea at the end. Girls tend to be planners (I work with a bunch of them.) They have their lives planned out starting in 8th or 9th grade. If they don’t see CS as a career option, they won’t bother with it. I think the only job programming that I knew about involved sitting in a cubicle coding. No thank you.

    Family issues. Certainly, there are plenty of computing careers that don’t require 60 hours/week, but plenty do, and many of the most publicized ones do. Think about the publicity that start-ups get, and often the focus is on the long hours one has to put in. If you’re a woman with a family, and many women still do most of the child care today, you’re going to shy away from options that don’t offer a more balanced work life. (Academic has this issue as well).

    When you’re in the majority, you have no idea what challenges face those in the minority. Read Johna Scalizi’s post about the “low difficulty setting” for straight white males: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/05/15/straight-white-male-the-lowest-difficulty-setting-there-is/

    I think it explains things nicely. And in gaming/computing terms!

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  May 31, 2012 at 8:30 am

      There’s yet another comment on that blog post, now, from one of the folks who follow Norm Matloff. Matloff claims that there is no shortage of computing professionals, and it’s all a lie concocted to bring in more foreign nationals. In a post on his website (http://heather.cs.ucdavis.edu/Archive/CWProfile.txt), he claims: “This was all planned for by the National Science Foundation. Their concern was that Ph.D. salaries were too high, and they said that they were going to remedy it by bringing in a lot of foreign students.” So the NSF is manipulating PhD salaries?


      Hard to make progress when we disagree if there is a problem.

  • 3. Elizabeth Patitsas  |  May 30, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    The Guardian article misses one factor that I’ve seen discussed in the physics education community — female academics tend date and marry fellow academics. A study I saw at UBC found that for female physics grad students, of the ones who were married, slightly over 50% were married to other physics grad students. (The same study also found that doing faculty hirings in pairs has a huge impact on attracting female faculty.)

    I’ve noticed in my experience that this sort of trend starts even earlier. Of my friends and acquaintances who have gone to grad school, most of the women in relationships will make sacrifices in picking grad schools to stay close to their boyfriends, and the men never do.

    Contributing to that trend is the culture in academia. Every university seems to have its Women in CS club that organizes talks for women together and talk about these things. The women willing to make these sacrifices get to talk to women who’ve made these sacrifices, or at least understand them. There appears to be no such influence for male academics.

    Indeed, the message tends to be that talks on work-life balance, parental leave, etc are for the women in CS to attend, not the whole student body. We know that getting men to share the work in child-rearing helps women in the workforce (eg. http://www.springerlink.com/content/5727533t3u086t63/), but there just doesn’t seem to be that support for men.

    I think one of the things we should be doing to improve the situation is to start getting that support out there for male students — making the notion of parenting in academia a non-gendered issue, and giving men the cultural okay to make sacrifices too.

  • 4. Dennis J Frailey  |  May 30, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    I’m a male but I too left academia early (after getting tenure and deciding the academic life wasn’t what I thought it would be). Perhaps my experience parallels those of some of the women who leave early. I ended up working in industry for 36 years (I recently retired) but, throughout that period, I taught on an adjunct basis. [I still do in retirement.] This gave me much of what I wanted from academia without the part I didn’t want. The part it gave me: teaching, working with students, being on doctoral committees, and a valuable change of pace from my industrial work. The part I didn’t like and was glad to leave behind:
    1) publish or perish pressure (which, from what I can see, leads to a huge volume of mostly forgettable publications). In industry I published as well but they were things I thought ready to publish, not something I had to crank out in order to meet a quota.
    2) pressure to bring in research money (it was easier to get funded and with less politics in industry).
    I actually enjoyed some of the committee work but didn’t miss it much either :-). I did miss having a private office on a nice campus and being around all those enthusiastic students all day.

    Here are some additional things I liked about working in industry:
    a) Working on real problems for real customers, usually culminating in products that they used and, in some cases, depended on. It gives you a great sense of achievement.
    b) Having to immerse myself in the worlds of my customers – a very broadening experience.
    c) Working with colleagues from many other disciplines, some of which I never encountered or even knew about in my academic environment. [In the academic world, various forces conspired to discourage working with lots of colleagues in other disciplines.]
    d) Having the opportunity to teach in the industrial environment – a refreshing change from the typical college classroom. Teaching technique seemed to get a lot more priority there than at any university I ever taught at.
    e) Many opportunities to travel and learn about other cultures

    Of course there were drawbacks in industry as well, but I’m glad I did what I did.

    I suppose some will classify me as a person not cut out for the research aspect of academia, but I wonder if that can be said for a large number of people, including many who are in academia. I worked in research as well as development groups in industry and found the pressure to make something practical out of the results to be more appealing than the pressure to do something that could generate research grants.

    It appears to me as though the pressure to generate revenue in the academic world (through research grants) has slowly transmogrified the academic life from what it once was and made it into a life that is a lot less appealing to many than it might once have been.

  • 5. Laurissa  |  May 31, 2012 at 9:53 am

    I think you hit the nail on the head both in this post and in the BLOG@CACM post. So many great discussion points, I don’t know where to start.

    The academic track certainly doesn’t leave much “wiggle room” for exploration or program diversity. I started off in IT (and was frequently asked if I was lost while I was in the CS dept), double-majored in English, then dropped IT because the program wasn’t very human-centered and that frustrated me. Now I’m finishing up a PhD in Rhetoric with a focus in Usability and HCI. And if you think prospects for an academic job in CS are bleak, the MLA job list for English positions is downright depressing.

    The lack of diversity in academia goes beyond just gender. Large universities especially seem to keep their degree programs so isolated from one another that students must go to extreme lengths to diversify. The divide is especially evident for those of us who want to move back and forth between the humanities and technology. I can’t tell you how many times an administrator has looked at me from across a desk and said, “Wait. Let me get this straight. You’re an ENGLISH major. Why do you want to take COMPUTER SCIENCE courses?” Fortunately I’ve had really supportive directors and advisors who’ve been willing to let me bend a few rules–but there are other students who haven’t been so lucky.

    I’ve always been afraid that technology and computer education will follow in the footsteps of writing instruction. Communication and computer literacy are both necessary skills in today’s culture and job economy. How can we expect students to learn either if universities require one (maybe 2) intro level courses during freshman year then never teach students how to build upon those skills, show them how how valuable those skills, and actually give them opportunities to apply their skills AFTER they leave those initial classes. Computing–in the same way as communication–can’t the be taught in isolation from other disciplines. They’re life-long learning skills that students NEED if they’re going to succeed once they leave the university.

  • […] a comment on Mark Guzdial’s blog (Women leave academia more than men, but greater need to change in computing « Computing Education B…),  Laurissa commented I’ve always been afraid that technology and computer education will follow […]


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